Federal court orders EPA to ban pesticide linked to brain damage in children

By Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather staff writer
August 16, 2018, 9:38:12 AM EDT

A federal court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to brain damage in children.

After former EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, refused to take a widely used pesticide that’s been linked to learning disabilities in children off the market, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ordered the EPA to ban the pesticide.

Scott Pruitt

In this May 16, 2018 photo, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt appears before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies on budget on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“The recent court decision is a huge victory for public health, especially that of children,” said Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney for the Environmental Working Group.

A report published in May 2017 from the EPA and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences warns that the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos can severely harm childrens' developing brains.

"The report found that children exposed to higher levels of chlorpyrifos before birth displayed adverse cognitive and behavioral outcomes compared to children exposed to lower levels," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said.

It said children with higher exposures score significantly lower on memory, IQ and development tests.

“Exposure to chemicals such as mercury, lead, arsenic, and pesticides can have negative effects on brain development, leading to cognitive delay, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), lower IQ, higher rates of anxiety and depression, behavior and learning disorders, reduced self-regulatory capacities, and shortened attention span,” the report said.

banned pesticide

Officials are moving to put it on a list of chemicals known to be harmful to humans and also increase the distance farmers can apply it from schools and homes. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

“Currently, neurodevelopmental disorders affect 10 to 15 percent of children born annually," Cook said.

The EPA originally proposed revoking all uses of chlorpyrifos on food in October 2015, based on many independent studies. However, in March, in one of his first decisions as EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt canceled an expected ban of chlorpyrifos.

“By requiring the EPA to finally ban chlorpyrifos, the Ninth Circuit is ensuring that the agency puts children’s health, strong science and the letter of the law above corporate interests," Benesh said.

CropLife America then petitioned the EPA to block the ban, which former administrator Scott Pruitt did shortly after meeting with representatives from Dow Chemical Company in 2017.

A federal court nullified that decision, essentially concluding that Pruitt’s reversal was illegal.

"EWG has focused on educating our audiences about the dangers of chlorpyrifos, and we, together with two other organizations concerned with food safety, gathered more than 80,000 signatures calling on Pruitt to follow through with the ban," Deputy Director of Communications for the Environmental Working Group Sarah Graddy said.

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The American Academy of Pediatrics and Environmental Working Group said in a letter to Pruitt that they were “deeply alarmed” by his late-March decision rejecting the scientific recommendation of his own agency and allowing chlorpyrifos to remain on the market for agricultural use. Chlorpyrifos, sold under the trade name Lorsban and used on a variety of crops since the 1960s, has been linked to learning disabilities in children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also warned that then EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s refusal to ban a widely used pesticide threatens the health of children, developing fetuses and pregnant women.

“EPA has no new evidence indicating that chlorpyrifos exposures are safe,” the groups said in the joint letter. “As a result, EPA has no basis to allow continued use of chlorpyrifos, and its insistence in doing so puts all children at risk.”

“We hold out hope that the report will inform future decisions when Pruitt and other political appointees at EPA must choose between children’s environmental health and the craven, profit-fueled demands of the chemical industry or the pesticide manufacturers," Cook said.

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